Tibetan Americans

Tibetan Americans
Total population
9,000 (Tibet Office estimate, 2008)[1]
Regions with significant populations
California (mainly Northern California), Colorado, Minnesota, Vermont, New Jersey, New York, Virginia, Maryland, Washington, D.C., Boston, Wisconsin, Chicago
Tibetan, Chinese, English
Related ethnic groups
Tibetans, Chinese Americans, Bhutanese Americans, Nepalese Americans and other Asian Americans particularly Americans of East Asian and South Asian descent

Tibetan Americans are Americans of Tibetan ancestry.

The history of Tibetan-Americans in the United States is relatively short, as the United States had limited contact or involvement with Tibet before World War II expanded to the Pacific.

Ethnic Tibetans began to immigrate to the United States in the late 1950s.[2] Section 134 of the Immigration Act of 1990 gave a boost to the Tibetan immigration to the USA, by providing 1000 immigrant visas to Tibetans living in India and Nepal.[1][2] Chain migration followed, and by 1998 the Tibetan-American population had grown to around 5,500, according to a census conducted by Central Tibetan Administration (CTA). The 2000 United States Census counted 5,147 US residents who reported Tibetan ancestry.[1]

An estimate of ca. 7,000 was made in 2001,[2] and in 2008 the CTA's Office of Tibet in New York informally estimated the Tibetan population in the USA at around 9,000.[1] The migration of the Tibetans to the United States took on the pattern of 22 "cluster groups", located primarily in the Northeast, the Great Lakes region, and the Intermountain West. Other communities include Austin, Texas and Charlottesville, Virginia. Tibetan Americans who are born in Tibet or elsewhere in China are officially recognized as Chinese nationals.[3]


Communities of Tibetan Americans in the Northeast exist in Boston and Amherst, Massachusetts, Ithaca, New York, and New York City, and in the states of Connecticut, Vermont and New Jersey. In New York and New Jersey, they live primarily in Queens and New Brunswick.

The town of Northfield, Vermont has been home for many years to the seat of the current Trijang Rinpoche, who has been estranged from the Dalai Lama due to the Dorje Shugden controversy, and has very few followers among Tibetan Americans outside Vermont.


In the Mid-Atlantic region, the largest communities can be found in Northern Virginia, Washington D.C., Montgomery County, Maryland, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and Charlottesville, Virginia.

Great Lakes region

On the grounds of Tibetan Mongolian Buddhist Cultural Center, Bloomington, Indiana

Communities of Tibetan Americans in the Great Lakes region exist in Chicago and in the states of Minnesota, Ohio, Indiana, Wisconsin and Michigan. There is a Tibetan Mongol Buddhist Cultural Center in Bloomington, Indiana near the campus of Indiana University.[4] The late brother of the Dalai Lama was a professor at the university.

Minnesota has the second largest concentration of Tibetan Americans in the United States.[5]

Western United States

Communities of Tibetan Americans in the western U.S. exist in Seattle, Washington, Portland, Oregon, Berkeley, California, several locations in Southern California, and in the states of Colorado, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, Washington, and Utah.

Every year, Seattle holds an annual Tibet Festival in August.


Although quite small in number overall, Colorado has one of the highest concentrations of Tibetans in North America, focused on Boulder, Colorado Springs, Douglas County and Crestone. The state sports a Buddhist university, the Naropa University, a Buddhist commune west of Castle Rock, and several cities have Tibetan outreach organizations. Colorado Springs alone has three Tibetan stores and a restaurant.

Much of the reason behind this rather peculiar demographic is that Tibetan guerillas were secretly trained by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) at Camp Hale outside of Leadville. Camp Hale was used as a training camp for expatriate Tibetans to be inserted to foment uprising in Tibet after the region was retaken by the Chinese People's Liberation Army, between 1959 and 1965.

From 1958 to 1960, Anthony Poshepny trained various special missions teams, including Tibetan Khambas and Hui Muslims, for operations in China against the Communist government. Poshepny sometimes claimed that he personally escorted the 14th Dalai Lama out of Tibet, but sources in the Tibetan exile deny this.

The site was chosen because of the similarities of the Rocky Mountains in the area with the Himalayan Plateau. This was a contemporary plan of the CIA to the one that trained dissident Cubans in what later became the Bay of Pigs incident. The CIA parachuted four groups of Camp Hale trainees inside Tibet between 1959 and 1960 to contact the remaining resistance groups. But the missions resulted in the massacre of all but a few of the team members. A condition of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the USA and China was that the Tibetan plan in Colorado's mountains was abandoned but the remaining Tibetans, having no free homeland to return to, opted to stay in the friendly environment and homelike terrain.[6]

Immigration timeline

Notable Tibetan Americans


  1. 1 2 3 4 Global Nomads: The Emergence of the Tibetan Diaspora (Part I), by Seonaigh MacPherson (University of British Columbia), Anne-Sophie Bentz (Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies), Dawa Bhuti Ghoso
  2. 1 2 3 Bhuchung K. Tsering, Enter the Tibetan Americans: Tibetan Americans establish a presence in the United States. Tibet Foundation Newsletter, February 2001.
  3. Ling, Huping (2008). Emerging Voices: Experiences of Underrepresented Asian Americans. Rutgers University Press. pp. 77–78.
  4. Tibetan Mongol Buddhist Cultural Center, Bloomington, Indiana - official site
  5. Immigration in Minnesota: Discovering Common Ground (PDF) (Report). The Minneapolis Foundation. October 2004. p. 14. Retrieved 24 July 2014.
  6. "CIA Circus Tibet's Forgotten Army". Canada Tibet Committee.

See also

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